Time flies when you’re… oh. Yeah.

At the moment i’m out of work again.  I’ve been temping whilst studying for my MA but the last one finished about a month ago.  I still miss my old (permanent) job in the library.  I worked there for six years.  But i was in a rut and i wanted to go back to university, to become A Proper Librarian, so i know it was for the best that i left.  But i do miss it.  And now’s not a good time to be looking for work, is it?  Then again, is it ever?

At home, with no structure to my day, only my rather vague resolve to work on my research proposal, and with no-one else around, my eating’s worse than ever.  No surprise there, eh?  So i’ve been looking for work, half-arsedly, in this strange state between life and death.

But i know that having a job won’t magically change my life.  Now, having a real job, a proper one where my skills are fully utilised, where i’m interested and engaged and busy with both my mind and my hands – that, i think, will make a big difference.  It’d be knackering at first, but that’s what i need.

Of course, the sort of work i can get, with a sickness record like mine and constraints on my time for studying and endless doctor’s appointments, well… i know from experience that it’s not great.  It’s mindless drudgery.  I can just work with one hand and binge with the other, sloping off every so often to the toilets.  And that’s just what i do.  Perhaps it’s a way of getting through the day, in order to ‘survive’ doing a job for which i can barely drag myself out of bed.

When the “trolley dolly”, at my last temp. job, came around to our floor one morning with her usual array of slightly battered fruit, unpleasant snacks and sugary drinks, as ever she spotted me stuffing my face with my usual bags of confectionery.

The previous time she’d been in, she’d joked, “Hide it under the desk, eh?” as i performed an unimpressive attempt at subtlety, chowing down on yet another bargain box of chocolates in a strategically-placed carrier bag.

This time, she said, loudly enough for the whole office to hear, “What are you munching?  You’re always munching something, aren’t you?”

I smiled, nodded mock-ruefully.  I did my little polite laugh and turned back to my computer, pretending to work.

Undeterred, she continued, “I seen you on the telly,” still too loudly.  “I know.”

“Ah, busted,” i said, feeling maybe the tiniest bit of shame, 99.9% indifference.

“No, is OK.  You keep munching,” she said.  Magnanimous.

And i did.  No-one around me said a thing.  Used to it, i suppose.  Like me.

“Ah,” i kind of felt like saying, but didn’t, “what can i do?  I’ve been doing this for over twenty years.  Maybe it’s all i know.  It gets me through, these days.”

I don’t fight it, like i used to.  Maybe i don’t even hate it like i used to.  I used to scream at myself, inwardly, stop, stop!  Put the food down!  I can just stop now!  Fucking stop it!  Walk away!  But something went on auto-pilot and my body carried on, despite my mind.

But now?  Resigned, accustomed.  This is what i do.  We all have vices.  We’ll all die one day.  Happiness is fleeting; who needs it anyway?


I don’t really believe that.  About not needing happiness.  Everyone needs – and deserves – a happy, decent life.

I’ve had a few messages since going on the telly.  Some are sad and desperate, wanting to recover but not knowing if they ever will.  Some of them are from partners of eating disorder sufferers, worried sick, wondering how they can cope.  A few of them are so young.  If i had a normally-functioning heart, i think it would break a little, each time.

A few are from well-wishers, telling me, oh, you’re so brave; or oh, you’re doing so well.

Thanks.  I’m not, you know.  Neither brave, nor doing well.  I’m as ill as ever – maybe slightly worse at the moment.  Binge-purge wise, i’m approximately as bad now as i was a few years ago, at my worst.  Then, of course, i was frighteningly under-weight, whereas now i’m at a normal, healthy weight.  Which doesn’t make me healthy, by any stretch of the imagination; but of course, that’s what people see.

So perhaps going on the telly hasn’t made the difference i’d hoped for, as regards raising awareness of “the invisible disorder”.  And although it’s helped the other two as regards further  medical treatment, i’ve stayed the same as i ever was – just as i expected.  Nothing really changes much, for me, so my old optimism that used to astonish people with its unceasing buoyancy, has dipped and waned into the reflection of a new moon.

Was it all a big fat waste of time, then?  Well, i don’t know.  I don’t regret doing it, but for my own objectives (which didn’t include my own recovery, because a few meals and shopping trips aren’t going to “fix” anyone), maybe it wasn’t so successful.  So little material was used, so much was over-simplified or simply mis-represented, that i’m left thinking we may as well not have bothered.

I wanted to tell people that, look, i’m an apparently normal person, with a very debilitating disorder.  This is what it’s like.  I don’t do it on purpose, or to piss anyone off.  I’m not a white, middle-class, heterosexual, teenaged girl.  I carry on, stoically most of the time, coping with life as best i can.  I’m not in A&E every week.  I’m not trying to kill myself: i’m trying to survive.  I may well be like this for the rest of my life.  There are loads of other people out there, of all ages and all sorts, who are very ill.  And you can’t tell by looking.

There are dog-knows how many people out there with eating disorders.  Old, young, middle-aged, queer, straight, asexual, transexual, intersex, male, female, neither, tall, short, fat, thin, medium-sized, black, white, brown, blue with yellow spots… there are people who overeat compulsively, people who binge, people who purge, people who binge and purge, people who over-exercise, people who chew and spit, people who only eat certain things and cut out entire food groups… and yes, there are white, middle-class, heterosexual teenage girls with anorexia.  There are as many different kinds of eating disorders as there are eating disorder sufferers.

Say what you like about this illness; but it does not discriminate.

But people do discriminate.  Even if they don’t realise, they have pre-conceived ideas about eating disorders.  Strangers, acquaintances, even healthcare professionals.  “Aren’t you a bit old for this?”  Or, “you’re not thin, so you don’t need help.”

There are so many people with eating disorders who are at a normal weight, or who are overweight, but although there is some (and it’s by no means enough) treatment for anorexia, there is almost nothing for bulimia, binge-eating, or compulsive over-eating.  If you look normal, if you’re (oh god forbid) FAT, if you act normal or put on a brave face and appear to be coping as best you can… you can fuck off.

The squeaky hinge gets the grease.

It’s another thing i’ve accepted.  I may be ill for the rest of my life.  People like me slip through the cracks for decades.  The illness gets so ingrained, it becomes part of us, harder and harder to beat as the years drain away.


Now… i often wonder, as i swing by my usual confectionery stops: do the shopkeepers recognise me?  Do they notice what i’m buying and guess what i’m going to do?

Back in The Old Days, i’d assume they were too busy and disinterested to notice, had so many customers there was no way my face would stand out.  But of course, that was Back Then, before i was on the telly, announcing my madness for the nation to gawp at.  Now it’s far more likely people will recognise my face.

And when i buy £50 worth of confectionery, eny fule can put two and two together.

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Eating Disorders and Collateral Damage

It’s tough being the partner, friend or relative of someone with an eating disorder – or any kind of disorder or addiction.  In all the fuss around the person with the eating disorder, the other people involved are all too easily forgotten.

Pretty often, people ask me: how does your girlfriend cope with you being bulimic?  Doesn’t it upset her, that you’re doing that to yourself?  Why do you still do it?  Why hasn’t love ‘cured’ you?  Is she OK about it?  Or, what can i do to help so-and-so who has an eating disorder?

Well no, of course she’s not OK about it and of course it upsets her.  She may be going out with me, but she’s not a complete nutcase.  She copes because she accepts that she has to.  We all have to accept people’s bad points as well as the good, if we’re to accept a person at all.

That’s not to say everyone can tolerate something so distressing.  Anorexia and bulimia have destroyed some of my relationships in the past – one of them quite spectacularly; this is, sadly, one of the realities of Living With An Eating Disorder.  It’s wrenched some people out of my life; it’s pushed some people away gradually and over time; yet others can’t accept it and maybe have chosen to not think about it and carry on as if it’s not really happening.

I suppose to an extent that’s what i do.  I’m altogether too good, to be honest, at not thinking about things – all sorts of things – just putting them away in a closet of my mind where i can’t see them.  Yet at the same time, i do acknowledge and accept things the way they are, more and more as the years drip by.

Perhaps things change as we get older.  We can accept things we couldn’t accept before, such as that we’re actually not that powerful and we can’t change other people.  I’ve accepted that, no, love does not cure everything.  I suppose we all have to calm down in order to survive: we get more worn out and tired – that includes people who haven’t got an eating disorder (or any recognised disorder) too – we get subdued by major stresses, yes, but also just by life, work, mundane worries, etc.  It all takes its toll.

As time slips away, we feel things less strongly, we feel less angry, less passionate; we no longer belligerently feel like we SHOULD have all the answers, nor that we MUST change the world or control how other people behave anymore.  I have some grey hair now; i’m always tired and have aches and pains all over the place; i no longer have the energy to stomp my righteous boots till 4 a.m.; i don’t actually have the inclination.  I can’t even finish a book in less than a week these days.

That probably sounds all very depressing, but actually, from my point of view, it’s just another thing i’ve come to accept.  We all have limits and we must know what they are.  I mean, i don’t mean to sound like the veritable octogenarian dishing out wise advice.  How can i, when i clearly don’t have the answers?

There’s a lot that’s wrong with the world, but there’s also a lot that’s right and good and wonderful.


Are you the friend, partner, relative, colleague, teacher or anything like that, of someone with an eating disorder?  Have a butcher’s at this – it might help:

http://www.mind.org.uk/help/diagnoses_and_conditions/eating_distress#friends

The thing is, my girlfriend, my mates and my family DO mind that i’m bulimic; and at times i get very sad thinking about how it affects them.  But like i said, i quickly pull my thoughts away from such things, rather than get upset.  If i didn’t, how could i get through the day?  But i think people need to know it’s not their fault, not their responsibility, not something they can do anything about… and not to take it personally.

Oh, there are always theories, aren’t there, as to why someone like me Ended Up Like This.  This or that factor in her childhood, or this or that incident or event drove her bonkers.  But what good is laying blame anywhere?  How does that help anyone deal with now?

If you want to help someone with an eating disorder, you do need to accept that this is the way they are, AT THE MOMENT; that “here and now” is the only place anyone can start from, and they’re the only one who can change things.

As anyone who’s ever had anything like an eating disorder, addiction or similar will know, of course, it’s not as simple as just “choosing” to get better. None of us chose to get ill. It takes a lot of work to even realise where you are, mentally and emotionally; often people will SAY they want to get better – that they’re ready, even, to get better – but they may not realise that they just aren’t yet.

A typical example might be someone with an eating disorder who’s underweight: they hate the way their life is, because it’s fucking miserable, but when faced with having to put on weight, they think, oh no. I want to get better, but i don’t want to put on weight.

Well, there’s no such thing as half recovery. If a person wants to recover, they can’t pick and choose. They have to take it all. And that’s REALLY fucking hard, especially as it will mean giving up the one thing, or the main thing, that makes a person feel ‘safe’.  Such as… retreating into food, as if it were a shelter (and it is, in a fucked up sort of a way: it’s familiar and we know how it works; it’s something we know how to do; it’s a distraction; it rarely brings surprises).  Like being underweight and therefore visible or even invisible.

It’s different for everyone – i hardly need tell you that, dear reader!

But for as long as a person ‘needs’ to cling onto any aspect of their eating disorder – and they will have good reasons, weird though it may sound – for as long as they are unwilling to completely let go that piece of driftwood to which they’re hanging on so grimly, for fear of drowning… they’ll never be free.  They need to trust, just trust that they’ll be all right – that they can swim.

So why am i still gripping that bit of flotsam, when i obviously know SO bloody much?  I dunno, maybe i’ve got so cold from being in the water so long, that my hands have frozen and i can’t uncurl my fingers.  OK, this metaphor’s getting ridiculous now.

Importantly, partners/friends/family need to think a little more about themselves and their own needs.  What do you need to do, to keep yourself OK?  I mean, if it means distancing yourself, so be it i suppose.  That’s what i’ve said to people i’ve ended up having to lose in the past.  You can be a friend without being a lover, you can be a good mate without being a best mate, you can step back but stick around, if that will mean YOU can cope better. Because you coping better means you can be there for someone, whereas if you’re not coping, you’re not helping – in fact you can end up dragging them down.

OR, you can hold on as you are, in the relationship you have with them, and you can accept that everyone’s got problems of some sort or another.  You won’t meet some miraculous person with no baggage whatsoever – anyone who reckons they haven’t is either deluded or lying!) – but you must just work out whether this is a problem YOU can deal with.  Just remember, you haven’t got a magic wand with which to make everything better – or how you want it to be.

Because all too often, in life, we really really REALLY want something, but we just can’t have it.  And there’s nothing we can do.  And that’s just how life is.

Many authors have said that life is a series of obstacles to overcome. That’s the point of life. You’re faced with a problem, you solve it, you move on to the next problem, rinse and repeat, ad infinitum. Sometimes the “solution” is to accept that there is no solution, that there’s nothing you can do right now, if ever. That’s all life is.

The best thing, in the end, is Honesty And Communication.  That’s what it always comes down to, innit?  Talk.  Don’t pretend.  Don’t hide.  Don’t make out like everything’s OK when it isn’t.  Forget pride and forget shame.  They don’t help anyone.  We need to understand, not avert our eyes.  We need to stand up and let people know more about these things, not hide away in denial.

If you want to help someone, talk to them, ask what it is they need.  They may not know yet.  But Rome wasn’t built over a single cup of tea.

The only person who can work out what’s going on inside someone’s head is that very person.  Deep down (maybe very deep down) they know what will work for them.  It takes a lot of patience and a lot of talking, but anyone who’s capable of giving that level of support to another is a Seriously Remarkable Person.

We need more people like that in the world.

Published in: on 11/05/2011 at 1:57 am  Leave a Comment  

The contradictions of self-hatred

Because of (or perhaps despite) years and years of therapy, i am (a) incredibly self-aware and conscious of everything that goes on in my mind and why; and (b) still bulimic.

But anyway.  Something i’ve noticed – a long time ago, but only recently put it into words – is that when those familiar thoughts, along the lines of, “i’m such a stupid worthless old crapbag”, pop into my mind… it’s because i’m remembering past wrongs.  Stupid things i’ve said and done, ridiculous ways in which i used to behave, teenage arrogance, pathetic childish moments from when i was… a child.

And even as i think “i hate myself” i think, no i don’t.  I’m all right.  No better or worse than anyone else.  (I’m an anarchist, so of course everyone’s equal, in my eyes – but let’s not go into that here.)  Of course, there’s plenty wrong with me.  I’m bulimic, for a start; i’m boringly self-absorbed alongside.

Despite the fact that i did such-and-such a stupid thing ten, twenty or more years ago, despite the fact that i remind myself no-one but me even remembers, let alone cares… yet still these intrusive thoughts dwell on my mind and kick up the dust of self-disgust into my eyes.  How can i just put the past where it belongs and forget about it?

I’m sure everyone gets intrusive thoughts.  In fact, everyone gets moments of self-hatred and quite probably often eats a bit too much chocolate when they do, from time to time.  It’s just that when you find this happens all day every day, you know you’ve got a problem.

But although it seems that most people with an eating disorder have certain triggers which will set them off, actually when i  binge-eat, it’s not as a result of negative thoughts, feelings or situations.  I just… do it anyway.  Without any apparent reason, or ‘trigger’, i stuff my face with everything i can carry from the local shops and may as well be flushing a handful of notes down the toilet every day, because that’s where my money ends up.

My challenge, i realise, is still to find out why; or more importantly, how to break what really seems to me to have become some kind of inexplicable habit… and choose not to do it.  Why would anyone choose to do this to themselves?  Self-hatred?  I mean, is that really the answer?  And what’s the answer to the more important question: how do i get better?

What’s more baffling is, why don’t i get better?  Why cling to a so-called coping mechanism that does nothing to make me feel better?  Of course, when i say “feel better”, i’m talking twisted logic.  But when people have a destructive habit or addiction, in a funny way, it tends to make sense.  “Smoking calms me down” or “I drink to forget”.

But me, well, i hate everything about bulimia.  It does nothing for me.  I hate how wasteful it is – of time, money, health, water, food and packaging.  There are people starving because of the shit distribution of wealth and resources while the planet can’t sustain how much we produce and waste.  I hate how pointless and futile bulimia is… how ineffective and useless i am.  And all it does is make me tired and hopeless.  So really, why do i do… what i do?

As ever i have more questions than answers.  And isn’t that what life’s all about?

But on the plus-side, my periods seem to have come back properly.  After nearly ten years, i’ve now had two in a row, only five weeks apart!  AND i’ve been getting tampons in, for the first time in my life.  Plus i have a massive zit on my chin.  Woop woop, third (or is it fourth?) puberty!  Bye bye anorexia!  Now, if i can just show bulimia the door…

Published in: on 03/05/2011 at 7:16 pm  Comments (4)  

Nineteen eighty-four?

So Osama Bin Goldstein – er, Laden – is dead.  Long live [insert replacement Bad Guy here]!

B… B!    B… B!     Er, i mean U – S – A!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K5XVAugy_3I&feature=featured

Now might be a good time for this quotation:

“I mourn the loss of thousands of precious lives, but I will not rejoice in the death of one, not even an enemy. Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”
– Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Published in: on 02/05/2011 at 3:01 pm  Leave a Comment